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  • Writer's pictureRob Scalise

The Manager Practitioner Series Part 2: Causes of Behavior & Economical Management

Updated: Feb 22

Rob Scalise

Pros become practitioners of their craft by studying and practicing the right things. Anything you do as a manager or leader can affect those around you and is an essential part of the job description. These aren’t passive roles you just come by, but positions that require a skillset you can practice and employ. This series will dive deep into what managing like a practitioner looks like and focus on aspects of the role you don't typically see in workshops, textbooks, and social media. Behavior science doesn’t claim to know all the answers. Instead, it provides a methodology and skillset to help you find them yourself. This series' purpose is to translate those tools to help you better inform your experiences as a manager, leader, or coach.

In Part 1 of the series, we saw shifts in a leader’s job description and its relation to the goals of behavior science. We introduced the nuances of managing like a practitioner to improve your awareness and how using a structured approach can inform your training and on-the-job experiences. Part 2 will continue evaluating and explaining the causes of behavior, focusing on finding causal relationships and using them to your advantage to motivate and understand people. Part 2 will finalize the scientific assumptions needed to make use of the tools we will cover later in the series.

It’s not always a great idea to be overanalytical or a stickler for words. And nobody likes a mansplainer, nobody. Still, being in charge, people count on you – money and resources are on the line. You need economic solutions that lead you to results, not turning in circles looking for more answers. Corporations spend actual Billions (around 70) every year on employee development. Almost half of that goes to leadership development. You’re expected to deliver the goods.

This starts with the ability to diagnose and explain the causes of performance, both of your own and others. The old saying, “work smarter, not harder,” applies in a scientific approach to behavior. It’s a pragmatic approach. Finding functional causes and acting on them gets a little easier when you know where to look. Our society has become very good at describing behaviors but not at tracing them back to their sources. Mostly, we are just looking in the wrong places - causing us to hit the gas pedal and draw conclusions without considering the conditions.

There won’t be any deep dive into nature vs. nurture or the origin of life. I need you awake for this (this topic is already dry enough!). Sound logic and a scientific approach are all the tools you need to tackle the subject of causes. We will review our main argument in the first 2 portions of this article. The rest goes through typical explanations for behavior and why they don’t work. It is a long piece, I’ve tried to make it all interesting, but the goods are first.

The Environment - The Causal Compass

The main component of behavior science is studying the environmental influence on our behavior. This influence is the core assumption in finding and manipulating causal relationships, it provides a compass. The methodology has been built from decades of direct experimentation and study of animal behavior, yes, including humans. My field is the application of this science, typically called applied behavior analysis. It is geared toward diagnosing causal relationships and using technologies to help people change their behavior or learn new skills. The power of this methodology lies in its scope, simplicity, and efficiency. I’ve used it personally to get people talking and reading for the first time all the way to designing cross-functional communication processes, incentives, and more. Its value has been proven across many domains including, studying drug effects, consumer behavior, addiction and relapse, economics, and organizational management. Just name a few.

The environment refers to the events we experience, both inside and outside our bodies, at any given time. It could be a kiss, a thought, a bird call, a lyric, an itch, a smile, or a significant life event. It could be chocolate or just the sight of the wrapper of your favorite chocolate. A causal relationship is precisely that, a relationship. A give and take. An ebb & flow. Peas in a pod. Between you and the world. If something in your environment changes, so do you, and vice-versa. But for a causal affair, it takes 3 to tango. It's a logical and straightforward concept that works across situations. On a basic level, you have a simple relationship between 3 events – an antecedent, a behavior, and a consequence. We call this a contingency. Given it's relationship to the environment, we call it an environmental contingency.